Friday, March 10, 2006

US say capture of Islamic vigilante kingpin 'significant'

Bangladesh bomber arrests said only the beginning
08 Mar 2006 02:14:12 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - Bangladesh's capture of two top Islamic militants in one week brought relief at home and praise from the United States, but experts say the South Asian country needs to do more to guard against radical Islam.

Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, leader of the outlawed Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was caught on Monday, four days after the head of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen head, Shayek Abdur Rahman, surrendered to authorities.

The two men were the most wanted fugitives in Bangladesh, the world's third most-populous Muslim country, and their groups are blamed for hundreds of bombings since last year.

"It was a significant and important capture," said a U.S. official of the first arrest, speaking anonymously as required by the official's government agency.

"The capabilities of (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen) appear to be more lower level, although they have demonstrated their willingness to use violence," the official added.

A second U.S. official involved in counter-terrorism said "Bangladeshi extremists don't appear to have joined the global jihad, but the possibility remains a cause for concern."

Terrorism in Bangladesh hovers below the U.S. radar, analysts say, noting that President George W.Bush did not mention the country during his trip to India and Pakistan.

But experts on South Asia warn against playing down the problem or viewing the two high-profile arrests as sufficient to win Bangladesh's struggle to maintain secular politics.

South Asia expert Hussain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said: "The real problem in Bangladesh is that the government has never fully acknowledged the extent of the Islamic militant problem in the country.

"Because of this, we do not know whether the arrests are just the tip of the iceberg or they are really a fatal blow to the movement," he said.

In Dhaka, the main opposition Awami league has often accused the government of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of allowing militants to operate in the shadow of its parliamentary partners in the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

The government's need for a coalition partner dampened debate on links between mainstream Islamic groups and shadowy offshoots such as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, said Haqqani.

"We do not know how many others there are and how many religious political groups in the country have militant wings who just use other names," he said.

Some of these groups reject accommodation with a democratic system and have adopted radical Islam under the influence of oil-rich Middle Eastern states which fund them, wrote expatriate Bangladeshi lawyer Maneeza Hossain in a study published by the conservative Hudson Institute last month.

Hossain's report, "The Rising Tide of Islamism in Bangladesh," says the country's porous borders and the growing role of the main port city of Chittagong in the arms trade makes radical Islam a regional if not global security issue that requires more attention from the United States.

"Without a steady eye in Washington on Bangladesh it makes it the perfect incubator because nobody is there to see it," said Hossain in a telephone interview.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan)